The Real History of President’s Day

Today is President’s Day – a holiday that is celebrated annually on the third Monday of February. This is a day in honor of all the presidents of our great nation, but it began as a celebration of one president in particular. Here’s a hint: he cut down Dad’s cherry tree (not really), he had wooden teeth, and he crossed the Delaware River like a boss.

That’s right, President Day was originally a celebration of our first President, George Washington. In fact, the federal government still officially calls it ” Washington’s birthday .” Washington died in 1799, so in 1800 people wanted to celebrate his birthday, February 22nd. For much of the 1800s, the celebration was more casual, but by the late 1870s, the US government wanted to make it an official holiday. In 1879, Congress declared Washington’s Birthday a day off for government agencies in the District of Columbia , and then extended it to all federal agencies in 1885. It was the fourth federal bank national holiday to be joined by Christmas Day, New Years Day. Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day. Washington’s birthday is the first individual American celebration, the second being Martin Luther King Jr. in 1983.

So when did all this “President’s Day” come into play? In the 1960s, Congress passed the Single Monday Weekend Act, which would essentially move certain holidays to predetermined Mondays so that people have more than three days off each year . The idea was that this would give the workers more free time so they would not play as often, but some thought it would make the holidays cheaper if they were not celebrated on a real day. The act also marked the celebration of George Washington’s birthday with the celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which was February 12th. Senator Robert McClory of Illinois, where Lincoln’s birthday was already a public holiday, proposed renaming the holiday President’s Day, but met with resistance. … Officially, the name has not changed, but the rest of the law was passed and came into force after the decree of President Richard Nixon in 1971 .

However, somehow the name “President’s Day” stuck because Washington’s new birthday date fell between his birthday and Lincoln’s. Retailers and advertisers have seized on this collective moniker, using it to bargain and sell over long weekends , and by the 1980s, most Americans knew the holiday as President’s Day. Over the past 15 years or so, even on the official government calendars, this holiday has come to be celebrated as President’s Day. Now this holiday is considered a time to celebrate and honor the memory of all US presidents of the past and present. Anyway – Happy Birthday Washington.


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